Trekking The Havasupai Trail

SUPAI, Ariz. — Standing on the Hualapai Hilltop on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the colossal, colourful view seems to go on forever.

There are layers of colours: the expected siennas and umbers, but also pinks, purples and a large variety of greens. Photos, no matter how skilled the photographer, can't do justice to the sights walking down the switchbacks on the Havasu Canyon trail.

Here are five things to know about planning a Grand Canyon hiking trip, which is on many a bucket list:


The journey needs to start with getting a reservation. If you call today, you'll be reserving a year or more in advance, depending on the numbers in your party. Currently, there is no online booking and prospective visitors must call the Havasupai Tourist Office to ask about general availability and spots that may have opened up due to cancellations. The hike isn't something that can be done as a day trip and requires camping or staying at the Havasupai Lodge.


The Havasupai have been the guardians of the Grand Canyon for centuries. They lost much of their land when the Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919, the tribe's website says, and were restricted to just 210 hectares on a reserve. In 1975, the U.S. Congress passed an act returning 76,000 hectares back to their control. The reserve is located on the southwest corner of Grand Canyon National Park.


While the hike isn't difficult for someone in good shape, visitors are greeted with a sign that issues a series of warnings: carry enough water, don't hike during the heat of the day, don't go without a reservation, no camping on the trail, watch for flash flooding, no rock climbing and stay with your group. The one piece of trail-etiquette that visitors must remember is to stand aside for "pack trains," the mules and horses that run supplies and hikers' gear up and down the canyon.


The switchback trail is very rocky, with boulders ranging from fist- to basketball-size and beyond. Under those rocks is a fine, silica-like sand that infiltrates shoes. Depending on your hiking boots, you may have to stop often to empty the sand.


The hike to Supai village is just under 13 kilometres, while the campground is about three kilometres beyond the village and the site of the jaw-dropping Havasu Falls. The high concentration of lime deposits in the area gives the water it's unusual turquoise colour.

From the village, the 60-metre Mooney Falls is a five-kilometre walk. The largest of the waterfalls in the Havasu Canyon, they are a spectacular sight from above, and intimidating from below. A sign warns on the trip down to "Descend at own risk." If the tiny pathway and narrow tunnel don't stop you from going down, perhaps the slippery chains and slick ladders will turn you around. It may be 30 C above, but in the mist of the falls it's chilly.

About three kilometres beyond Mooney Falls are Beaver Falls, and the Colorado River is an 18-kilometre hike.

Visitors can bring in their own food, but that's more weight to carry or put on the pack horses that you can hire to carry the load. There is a cafe and store to buy food, including the famed fry bread, served crisp and hot.


If you go...

- For campground reservations call the Havasupai Tourist Office at (928) 448-2121.

- For the Havasupai Lodge reservations call (928) 448-2111.

- You can reach Havasupai from the famed Route 66, east of Peach Springs, onto Indian Route 18, a 102-kilometre road that takes you to the top of the trail.

Terri Theodore , The Canadian Press

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